When you read this I hope that I will still be around. You see, I am one of 55,000 registered participants for the 40th Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta on July 4th. Less than 4700 of the 55,000 who will run or walk the 10K route from Lenox Square to Piedmont Park are over the age of 60. I am one of them.
It takes over 3400 volunteers to make the Peachtree possible. Over 900 volunteers will help coordinate the start, and it will be a full hour and 15 minutes before the final runner gets a chance to begin his or her 6.2 mile run down Peachtree Road to the finish on 10th Street. The Peachtree is the largest 10K road race in the U.S. and is arguably the best and most prestigious race of its kind.
The Atlanta Track Club website describes the course as taking runners "from the suave streets of Buckhead to the cool corners of Midtown, finishing gracefully in Atlanta's beloved Piedmont Park. Patriotic supporters, rolling hills, and motivational music await all 55,000 lucky participants." Less than a mile from the start at Piedmont Road the route begins a slight downward slope reaching its lowest elevation at Peachtree Creek (2.75 miles). It then starts a sharp incline up Cardiac Hill approaching Piedmont Hospital and continues it's upward slope for over 2 miles to 14th Street (mile 5).
The Peachtree has come a long way since its beginning. Approximately 110 runners gathered together at the old Sears parking lot at the corner of Peachtree Road and Roswell Road on July 4, 1970 and headed downtown towards Central City Park in the first Peachtree.
The support of a sponsor allowed the race to afford trophies, a luxury not easily funded through the $2 entry fee. Nor did the budget include T-shirts but it did include the 15-cent bus fare given to each finisher to return to their car at Sears. There was no water on the course as track and field rules at the time discouraged such aid for distances 10K or shorter.
Spectators at that first Peachtree consisted of a few surprised pedestrians walking their dogs compared with the 150-200,000 persons who now line the street to cheer on the runners and walkers. This year there will be 700 portable toilets along the race route. Over 550,000 paper cups and 65,000 bottles of water will be handed out as the participants pass along the route. The 55,000 runners and walkers will burn 34 million calories.
The 1971 Peachtree nearly doubled in size to 198, a growth which took organizers by surprise. The next year 330 showed up. In 1980, race entries were limited to 25,000. In 1989, the 25,000 was reached in just 9 days. By 1990 40,000 ran. The race took two weeks to close. In 1998, 55,000 runners were admitted, up from 50,000 in 1997. Over 70,000 applicants applied within 24 hours.
Among the most beloved aspects of the race, the Wheelchair Division, took formal shape in 1982.
In 2005 the Peachtree hosted its first satellite race at Camp Victory in Baghdad. Time Group Ten-Baghdad Division drew 500 soldiers who wore Peachtree race numbers to earn the Peachtree T-shirt-a special edition with "Baghdad Division" on its sleeve.
Some of the participants are there for the competition. Last year's winner logged a time of 27 minutes and 22 seconds. My time--well it was a little bit more than that. OK, it was a lot more than that.
I cannot compete with the professional runners or the 5,000 who are under 19. But I don't have to. I view the Peachtree Road Race as a giant community party and, along with many of the participants, enjoy the social aspect of the event. My goal: to give my best and finish before noon (my start time is 8:18.30 AM).
The beauty of the Peachtree, and of life, is that we don't have to compete with others. We can just enjoy all that God offers and give our best to it. In the end it is not a matter of "winning" or "losing." The goal is to be able to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful" (2 Timothy 4:7) and to hear the Lord say, "Well done good and faithful servant."
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," July 5, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]